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House on Haunted Hill, 1958.From the DVD case: Vincent Price is wonderful as the sinister owner of an old, dark and evil mansion located on a haunted hill. He bribes several of his enemies with an offer of $10,000 each, if they would spend the night in the crumbling mansion. He gives each of his guests a tiny coffin containing a handgun and proceeds to set in motion gadgets and devices aimed at frightening his visitors into using their weapons. Terror, murder and the supernatural make this one of producer/director William Castle’s best films. (1958, b&w)

Mark says: The DVD description above is not entirely accurate, and in fact, is just plain wrong in places, but it will suffice for a loose synopsis of the film.

The one thing the description does have right is that Vincent Price (House of Wax, The Fly) is wonderful as the sinister millionaire, Frederick Loren. He plays the role as the cool, cold-blooded gentleman we’ve come to expect from Mr. Price. Carol Ohmart is his lovely, and it turns out, just as sinister, wife, Annabelle Loren.

The primary fault with House on Haunted Hill is that the plot has holes in it numerous enough to sink an entire fleet of Titanics. For example, when Carol Ohmart floats to Nora’s (Carolyn Craig) window as a ghost, with that amazing haunted rope of hers, we are later supposed to believe it was just some “trick” played on poor Nora. And when Nora runs from her room, seconds later, there is Carol Ohmart again, dangling from a rope! How did she get in the house and attach herself to that rope so fast?

But I must confess that I really enjoy this film. It is pure William Castle fun. Mr. Castle (13 Ghosts, The Tingler) was a master of promotion and gimmicks, and he knew how to thrill an audience. When House on Haunted Hill first came to theaters, the gimmick was “Emergo,” a prop skeleton that flew over the audience during the climatic scene of the film. But even without Emergo, this film is a blast to watch.

There is a lot of camp value to House on Haunted Hill. The dialog, and especially the scenes with Vincent Price and Carol Ohmart, are pure camp fodder.

However, this movie also manages to maintain a creepy atmosphere. Almost all the scenes with Leona Anderson as the blind groundskeeper still give me a chill, and Mrs. Loren hanging from her rope will certainly cause some uneasiness.

Elisha Cook, Jr., as Watson Pritchard, adds another haunted dimension to the film. Though, as Frederick Loren says himself, we get a little tired of Pritchard’s “spook talk.” Carolyn Craig keeps us equally unhinged with her constant screaming.

In the end, you don’t really mind all the stuff you were asked to believe. The movie moves along at a good clip, and you are completely entertained, one way or another, throughout its entirety. Isn’t that what a good B-movie is all about? It is in my book.

Directed and produced by William Castle.

Scene to watch for: Vincent Price reveals himself as the operator of the haunted skeleton. The contraption he is wearing is hilarious.

Line to listen for: “It’s a funny thing, but none of the murders here were just ordinary – just shooting or stabbing. They’ve all been sort of wild, violent, and – different.”

Trivia: The exterior of the haunted house is the Ennis-Brown House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Bonus: Watch the movie trailer for House on Haunted Hill.

Mark’s rating: ! ! ! ! out of 5.

IMDB Link

4 Comments

  1. Although this probably wasn’t the first haunted house movie I ever saw, it is my favorite. I’m not sure how old I was when I first watched this film, but I do remember I was visiting my aunt and uncle in Chicago. We were watching it on TV and I was still young enough to sit on my uncle’s lap, because, after all, it was a scary movie. The moment the blind lady appears behind Nora, I must have jumped 6 inches. I remember my uncle laughing uncontrollably at my frightened reaction. The following morning I was told that I woke the entire household by screaming in my sleep, something I do not remember and, to my knowledge, I have never done since. Obviously the viewing of the movie brought this on.

    IMO, Elisha Cook, Jr. stole the show with his weird expressions and spooky dialog. I especially liked what he said about the missing heads. The exterier of the house, while a masterpiece of art and architecture, was somewhat of a disappointment. I expected a more traditional Victorian structure, with tall towers swarming with bats, similar to that depicted in the poster. Still, even with the plot holes you’ve pointed out (and there were several others, too) this film is an all time classic and a must for any haunted house fan to watch, especially during the Halloween season.

  2. Paul: Thanks again for sharing another “fright film” memory! To me, that’s what these movies are all about.

    I remember this movie scaring me terribly, too. Even people who are not fans of the genre seem to have stories about when they watched this movie for the first time as a kid. I wasn’t about to see the remake of this film. This is a version I consider almost sacred. And dear Lord, how I miss Vincent Price!

  3. When talking about actors associated with this genre, the first names that come to mind would likely be Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. But in the 50s, Vincent Price grabbed the baton and never looked back. Like his two predecessors, Mr. Price’s presence immediately sparks images of terror, whether he is seen on screen, or simply heard (i.e. Michael Jackson’s Thriller.) Even Tim Burton paid homage to him in the short animated film “Vincent,” which, by the way, was narrated by Mr. Price, himself.

    After a quick look through my own video collection, it’s obvious that the titles featuring Vincent Price out number those with Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, combined, by at least ten to one.

  4. Whoo boy, I have seen this one well over 50 times at this point, and have a feeling that this is a film that works best on the young and impressionable. This picture used to scare the living crap out of me as a kid; William Castle sure did know what he was up to! Today, the thought of Carol Ohmart floating outside of Carolyn Craig’s window can still give me the creeps; I guess it scares me now because I can still recall how scared I used to get when I was much younger. The story DOES have numerous plot holes and inconsistencies and none of them matter in the least. This is a film that will probably be scaring the shite out of grown-up kids for decades to come….


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